Safed Tourist Attractions
Situation and characteristicsThe town of Safed (also spelt Zefat) lies 1,000m/3,300ft above the Jordan valley in the hills of Upper Galilee, 35km/22mi from Tiberias and 50km/31mi from Akko.
From the 16th century it was a holy town to the Jews, a center of the ancient mystical tradition of the Kabbalah. In the north of the town are a number of synagogues dating from that period. Safed is one of four cities holy to the Jews, the others being Tiberius, Hebron and Jerusalem.In more recent times, thanks to its beautiful setting and its agreeable, mild climate, Safed has developed into a summer holiday resort much frequented by the Israelis. Most foreign visitors spend only a day or two in the town in the course of a tour.HistoryIn the first and second centuries A.D. a number of Mishnah and Talmud scholars lived in the Safed area. In 1102 the Crusaders built a castle here. After its destruction in 1188 by Saladin it was rebuilt in 1240 by French Templars, who were forced to surrender it to the Mameluke Sultan Baibars in 1266. It became a Jewish town in the 16th century, under Ottoman rule, and for a time was a separate sanjak (administrative unit). Jews came from many parts of Europe and North Africa to settle here, and around 1550 the town had a population of over 10,000. Among its inhabitants were Rabbi Jakob Berab, who wanted to restore the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Joseph Caro, author of the "Shulhan Arukh", a collection of maxims (c. 1560), and Rabbi Izhak Luria (b. Jerusalem 1531), known as Ha'ari, the Lion. The first book in Hebrew was printed at Safed in 1578.During the 18th century the population declined, although in 1778 Chassidist Jews from Poland came to Safed, as well as to Tiberias. In 1834 the town was pillaged by Druze raiders, and in 1837 it was destroyed by an earthquake. Towards the end of the 19th century new settlers came to Safed, bringing its population to 6000 Arab and 6000 Jewish families. By 1936, however, as a result of violent Arab rioting, the Jewish population had fallen to 1800, and when Israel became independent in 1948 there were 12,000 Arabs and only 1700 Jews. Then in May 1948 a group of Palmach fighters (Haganah commandos) stormed the Arab positions and drove the Arabs out of the town, which since then has been purely Jewish.
Safed is built on a hilly site and there are many ups and downs in its topography. In recent decades new suburbs, widely spaced from one another, have sprung up round the old town center. Tourist facilities are mainly concentrated on Mount Canaan (960m/3,150ft), to the east of the town, where there are hotels, picnic areas and viewpoints. Although the central area of Safed has no buildings of outstanding quality it is a friendly and attractive town. The main shopping street (partly pedestrianised) is Jerusalem Street (Rehov Yerushalayim), with a number of pavement cafés. Just off the south end of the street is the artists' quarter, to the north of which is the old part of the town with its numerous synagogues.
It is worth walking up the hill in the center of Safed, Hametzuda (834m/2,736ft) for the sake of the fine views from the top. On the hill, which is laid out as a park, are the scanty remains of a Crusader castle and a memorial to those who died in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
Israeli Bible Museum
On the north side of the hill in the center of Safed, in a house built in the second half of the 19th century as the residence of a Turkish pasha, is the Israeli Bible Museum, founded in 1985 on the initiative of the Jewish-American artist Philip Ratner. It displays hundreds of his paintings and works of sculpture representing scenes from the Bible, together with works by the painter and sculptor Enrico Glicenstein (1870-1942).
To the west of the hill in Safed, beyond Jerusalem Street, is the Davidka Monument. The Davidka was a small and rather crudely constructed cannon, which at any rate made a very loud noise and drove the last Arabs out of Safed in 1948.
Just off the south end of Jerusalem Street in Safed, is the artists' quarter, in a part of the town occupied until 1948 by Arabs - low houses, huddled closely together, in which there now live some sixty painters and sculptors. Many of them have their own galleries, and the former mosque serves as a showroom for them all. In this quarter is the Museum of Printing, illustrating the long tradition of printing in Safed (where the first Hebrew printing-press was installed in the 16th century). The museum also displays works of graphic art by leading Jewish artists.
Between the artists' quarter and the old town of Safed to the north, with its many synagogues, is a broad flight of steps called Ma'alot Olei Hagardom. The name means "those who went up to be hung" - referring to the 12 who were hung by the British at Akko Prison and are buried here.Just above the steps is Hameira House, with a privately owned collection of material on the history of Safed and Jewish life in the town. Beyond this, in a maze of narrow winding lanes, are a number of synagogues which externally can hardly be distinguished from the surrounding houses. They are all named after well-known rabbis. Here, with a little luck, can be found the Joseph Caro Synagogue, built on the foundations of the house once occupied by the 16th century rabbi of that name. Nearby is the Ha'alsheh Synagogue.Farther north are the Abouav Synagogue, which preserves, housed in a wooden shrine, a Torah written by Rabbi Abouav in the 15th century; the Joseph Bena'a Synagogue, also known as the Shrine of the White Holy Man; and the Ashkenazi Ha'ari Synagogue, with a vaulted roof borne on antique columns, which has an olive-wood Torah shrine carved at the end of the 19th century by a craftsman from eastern Europe. The Sephardi Ha'ari Synagogue, the oldest in Safed, lies on the lower western edge of the town; it has an enclosed recess in which the rabbi used to pray.
Downhill from the synagogues in Safed is the Jewish cemetery, with the graves of Rabbi Ari (d. 1573) and Joseph Caro (d. 1575).
Cave of Shem and Eber
Under the south side of the hill of Hametzuda in Safed is the Cave of Shem and Eber, in which tradition has it that Noah's son Shem and his grandson Eber studied the Torah.
The village of Bar'am, now abandoned, has notable remains of an ancient synagogue. It is reached by taking the road which runs north from Meron to Sassa (9km/6mi) and from there turning into a road on the right. According to tradition the prophet Obadiah and Esther, wife of the Persian king Xerxes, were buried in Bar'am.The site of the synagogue, now a National Park, lies above the kibbutz of Bar'am (founded 1948). The synagogue, which is preserved up to the second story and has been well restored, dates from the second or third century and is thus one of the oldest buildings in the country. The entrance front with its three doorways faces in the direction of Jerusalem. In front of the entrance are some of the (originally eight) columns with Attic bases which supported a porch. The interior was divided by rows of columns into three aisles and an ambulatory.100m/110yds from the synagogue is a small 19th century Maronite church (usually closed).
Frenkel Frenel Museum
The Frenkel Frenel Museum is located in a 12th century building, in the heart of Safed's artist colony. The collection of Frenel work ranges from the 1920's to contemporary works. Antique furnitures and other objects are on display.
Map of Safed Attractions
More on PlanetWare